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Reluctant hero honored for saving three lives

Shirley Payne reads from plaque her family presented Good Samaritan Dale Seyller second from left for rescuing her family from

Shirley Payne reads from a plaque her family presented to Good Samaritan Dale Seyller, second from left, for rescuing her family from a house fire early on November 28th. Seyller was on his way home from work when he stopped his car and rescuing Payne, her husband Levi and son Otis from their burning Montgomery home. Seyller's wife Carla is at left. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 14, 2013 6:29AM

Dale Seyller said he didn’t do anything special and doesn’t like being called a hero. In fact, this past month the Village of Montgomery attempted to honor his actions at a board meeting but citing his job of working nights he couldn’t make the meeting.

Seyller is anything but a normal guy who drives a Pepsi truck. In fact, his actions late last year are credited with saving three lives and the family members of those three gathered this weekend to break bread and thank the man for his actions.

The Levi Stokes family wasn’t going to let the matter go by the wayside and convinced the Seyller family to meet them for lunch over the weekend. “He said he really wanted to thank me and at least let him buy me lunch,” said Seyller. His wife Carla said she had to convince him to accept the invitation.

What he didn’t expect was a crowd of 29 very grateful people saying he was the definition of a hero and they could never re pay him for what he did over a month ago.

Seyller was on his way home at 2 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 28. He said he had driven some 400 miles that day but as he drove down South East River Road he saw a mist in the sky.

“It looked like a fog and I hadn’t seen it anywhere else,” Seyller explained. He had passed the home but wasn’t going to leave it as an odd mystery in the night. “I turned around and pulled into the vacant lot near the home. I parked with my car lights aiming toward the house, got out and saw nothing. I walked over to the house and smelled smoke. The roof of the home looked like it was steaming.”

He said that is when he ran back to his truck, grabbed his cell phone and called 9-1-1. “I was on the phone and told the operator I wasn’t sure there was a fire but something wasn’t right, “ he said.

At about the same time, Otis Payne broke some glass out of a back window and with Seyller’s help, crawled out. “He said his mama was still in there so I banged some more and that is when the police showed up,” Seyller said.

Next he said they couldn’t really see further than eight to ten inches into the home when the officer shined his flashlight into the window. “I reached in there, grabbed her hand and pulled her out,” Seyller said.

It was at that time he found out Levi Stokes was still in the burning home. More frantic banging coaxed Stokes near the window where Seyller said he could pull him out of the burning home as well. Shirley and Levi Stokes were taken to the hospital and at one time, Shirley was not expected to live. She had suffered extensive burns and smoke inhalation. Otis Payne was treated at the scene.

“These people really saved themselves,” Seyller said as he looked at the gathering of family members, some 13 from his family and 16 from the Stokes group.

Aurora Alderman Scheketa Hart-Burns is related to the family and was just one of the 29 people who gathered at a Montgomery restaurant to break bread together and salute the Seyller family.

“We are so thankful that he went beyond what others might have done,” she said. “You stopped and we thank God. There are 16 smiling family members here and you have kept us all smiling,” she said while presenting Seyller with a thank-you plaque.

Carla Seyller gave the Stokes family a guardian angel statue for their home. The family is currently living in a furnished apartment with help from their insurance company while they are waiting for their house to be repaired.

The 13 members of the Seyller family said they weren’t surprised at what Dale did but weren’t told the story for at least a month. “He told us on Christmas Eve. He started to tell the story and I was waiting for a punch line,” said daughter Kari Scola. “He hates recognition but he is truly that way.”

This isn’t the first time he has saved a life. Scola said she and the family were white-water rafting many years ago when a child got tangled up in the undertow in the river. Seyller brought her to safety, she said.

Seyller said he still doesn’t think he deserves all the accolades being showered upon him. “God stopped you, Dale, and God gave us you to save the family,” Hart-Burns said.

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